Screenwriter Michael Arndt boasts an impressive resume, which includes Academy Award-winning “Little Miss Sunshine” (2006) and “Toy Story 3,” the highest-grossing film of 2010 and the top-grossing animated film of all time. Arndt spoke with the Daily in a roundtable interview about his experience writing “Toy Story 3.”
Question: Was writing a Pixar animated film very different from writing live-action films?
Michael Arndt: In terms of writing characters or stories … there’s no difference between live-action and animation. A good story is a good story, whatever the medium. … To me, Buzz Lightyear is just as real as Olive Hoover in “Little Miss Sunshine.” The big difference is in the rewriting process. In live-action, writing, production and editing happen in discrete stages. In animation, they overlap — happening simultaneously. This allows a real dialogue to occur between the writer, the director, the actors and the editor, and it makes the writing process a lot more collaborative and a lot less lonely.
Q: What was the biggest story challenge in the writing of “Toy Story 3”?
MA: It may seem strange, but the hardest part of the script was actually the beginning, when you meet the toys again after 10 years have passed. We had to figure out what they’ve been doing for the last 10 years, what their expectations for the future are, how they still feel about Andy. … In fact, [I did 60 different versions of] the scene where Woody calls his staff meeting … before we settled on the final one.
Q: How did your career change after winning an Oscar?
MA: The biggest change is that when I have a story meeting in Hollywood now, people actually listen to what I say.
Q: Which character did you like writing the best?
MA: Ken. He was a blast to write. I just want to note that all the clothes that Ken wore in the movie are actual Ken clothes — we didn’t make anything up. And yes, that means that Ken had a Nehru jacket in the 1968 “Groovy Formal Collection.”
Q: A lot of fans loved the fact that Totoro [from the Japanese anime film “My Neighbor Totoro” (1988)] is in the movie. How did he come [to be] involved?
MA: I remember sitting down to write the scene in Bonnie’s bedroom and having to come up with who her toys might be. So I figured a little girl would have a unicorn, a triceratops, a hedgehog, and then — almost as a lark — I threw in a Totoro doll. I didn’t really think it would make it into the final film, but everyone here at Pixar is such a huge fan of [Hayao] Miyazaki that we decided to ask Studio Ghibli to let us put Totoro in the movie, and we’re all very honored that they said yes.
Q: Can you talk about Lotso, one of the most important characters in the film?
MA: I liked the idea of Lotso from the very beginning — he was a toy gone bad who no longer believed in the love between a child and a toy. Like all good villains, his rather curdled view of the world makes sense in light of his experiences. In a nutshell, Lotso got replaced [with another toy], and the lesson he drew was that everyone and everything is replaceable. When Ken stands up to Lotso at the end of the story, Lotso yells that there’s a hundred million Barbies just like the one he’s fallen for. Ken affirms that he loves Barbie — that she’s special and unique to him: that she’s not replaceable to him. To be pretentious for a second, that’s a gesture Shakespeare uses a lot — putting wisdom in the mouth of a fool.
Q: Is there anything you wanted to change last minute, or were there any last minute changes?
MA: The last line of dialogue I added to the script was having Woody, at the beginning, tell the toys (again) that their job is “to be there for Andy.” That was really important in terms of setting up his sacrifice at the end: his letting go of Andy. I wrote that line on June 18, 2009 — exactly one year from the release of the film — and it really felt like the last piece of the puzzle falling into place.
Q: In order to write a screenplay, do you have any habits or personal rules?
MA: When I’m working on my own projects, my habit is to procrastinate as long as possible before I finally start writing. That may sound glib, but I feel it’s important to give your story a chance to gestate and mature until it’s really ready to be born. … At Pixar, however, I don’t have the luxury of procrastination, which makes writing both challenging and terrifying.